Do social media and council meetings mix?

SimonGeneral4 Comments

A post from Dave Briggs on how social media could enhance the business of council meetings – generating more interaction from the public than currently happens – has got me thinking.

Last summer’s Communities in Control whitepaper represents a real driver for increased citizen engagement.

And to my mind social media, in its many guises, is a great tool for helping with that.

So how could this work in practice?

The comments to Dave’s post make interesting reading and have experiences that help point in the right direction.

Thinking about formal meetings that make up some of the business of local government, there’s a wealth of process and protocol and the opportunities for citizen involvement are limited at the moment – usually to a few prepared public questions.

Dave notes that overview and scrutiny committees may be a more appropriate place than full council or cabinet meetings – as there’s more scope for varied citizen-member interactions at that format of meetings.

One area I think there’s real potential is in consultation meetings. These typically take the form of one or more speakers standing up in front of an assembled throng, imparting some useful information, and then taking questions from the audience. And once in while they’ll be a row or two to boot.

In my experience such meetings aren’t actually particularly effective in capturing the thoughts and feelings of the assembled audience – the linear format of question and answer limits the number of people that can engage. And that’s before you consider that many people aren’t confident enough to stand up and ask a question in such a context.

It’d be really interesting to think about how a backchannel, possibly Twitter, could be used in that kind of meeting to allow more people to have a say.

Along similar lines how could basic audio and video capture (that most people can do on their mobiles), be used in conjunction with social media technologies to allow anyone at such a meeting (physically or virtually) to register their point of view.

This is a really interesting area for local government – thanks to Dave’s post I’ve got a few things I’d like to try out in the coming months on consultation and engagement projects.

4 Comments on “Do social media and council meetings mix?”

  1. Dave Briggs

    Thanks for the link Simon and I am pleased that my rather throwaway inspired some creative thinking!

    I think that things like live streaming of meetings is actually barking up the wrong tree as they don’t help solve the actual problem, which is that the form and process of council business is tricky to understand, and that if I can’t make a meeting, it’s also going to be unlikely that I can make the live stream – being able to view it afterwards is also no help as by then the decisions have been made.

    You are right to point out that consultative meetings are most appropriate for this, and one suggestion that I have received from a UK local authority is to apply this approach to the planning process, which obvious happens over a longer period of time. This will give people a chance to submit content to the process through social media, whether blogging, highlighting related web pages through bookmarking, sharing photos (which I think would be *very* cool for planning stuff) and video etc.

    I am writing a quick proposal for how this might work for the authority that got in touch, and I am sure they wouldn’t mind me sharing it with you!

  2. Simon

    Agree that live streaming isn’t really addressing the key issue -it’s a one-way channel just transmitting the goings on, when the real issue is about increasing participation rather than observation.

    Would be very interested in your planning process proposal if the client is ok with sharing.

    We’re going out to consultation on our cultural strategy in the coming months, and we’re hoping to do something quite innovative combining social media with more traditional face to face consultation.

    I will, of course, post about it here at an appropriate point!

  3. Matt Johnson

    Just reading this post and it reminded me of soemthing…

    Has anyone seen “Live at The Apollo” on the BBC (or repeated on Dave) – at the end of the standup routine Jack Dee will read out SMS messages off his mobile that the audience has sent in during the show.

    A Council Meeting (maybe more comical?) could follow a similar procedure – with SMS messages or Tweets being collated and responded to at the end of the meeting. The respondees could be in the venue (as at The Apollo) or they could be watching via a live stream.

  4. Simon

    I like that idea Matt – it’d need incorporating into the procedures for council meetings though – I think what’s key is using technologies that people are familiar with – and I think SMS fits the bill for that well.

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